“Research has recognized that strong and meaningful relationships contribute to individual mental wellbeing. Simply put, people are happier, less stressed and more resilient when feeling part of a group.” – DforDesign 

Around 73 million homeowners are members of a Homeowners Association (HOA) in the US and the popularity of these community-focused groups is only increasing. While convenience and the chance to access privatized amenities were the main reasons for the establishment of HOAs, in the post-COVID era, the search for togetherness has led to a new valuation of the importance of community and togetherness. Because outdoor spaces are where most community members congregate, it is vital to make these spaces more appealing. Biophilic design—which essentially aims to harness the power of nature to enhance human wellbeing, creativity, and calm, is key to this process. By creating aesthetically appealing, comfortable, nature-inspired places to pause and gather, communities can feel like they are part of a collective effort. What features can help boost this feeling?

Photo by Jason Leung on Unsplash

What is Biophilic Design? 

Mention the words ‘biophilic design’ and your mind could conjure up images of modern office spaces filled with plants, green carpeting, living ‘green walls’, and crystalline views of rolling mountain ranges or sparkling waters. While these are all undoubtedly examples of biophilic design, the concept lies much deeper, as written in Interface’s guide for architects, entitled Creating Positive Spaces Using Biophilic Design. This philosophy, which is very much the buzzword in a post-pandemic age, essentially involves three key concepts:

  • Nature in the Space: This concept embraces visual and non-visual connections to nature, non-rhythmic stimuli (such as the gentle movement of leaves), thermal and airflow variability, the presence of water, dynamic and diffuse light (using light of different intensities and shadows), and connection with natural systems (having an awareness of seasonal and temporal changes).
  • Nature Analogues: This involves imitating the forms, patterns, and materials found in nature. It also seeks to provide space with complexity in order, as exists in nature. For instance, spaces can be zoned (as they are in nature) using light, texture, sound, or color.
  • Nature of the Space: A concept that embraces unimpeded views of nature, places that are refuges for human beings (nooks and areas where they feel protected), mystery (the promise of more information using partially hidden views), and risk (imitating the risky aspects of nature through elements such as bouldering on walls or the placement of seating over drops).
Photo by Alberto Castillo Q. on Unsplash

Proposing Changes at  Community Meetings

Neighbors wishing to present biophilic design ideas to other members of their HOA should propose a meeting, relying on information supplied by architects and the pertinent CC&Rs (Declaration, Covenants, Conditions and Restrictions), which govern the common interests of their community. They should also have community managers present. As stated by a Myrtle Beach HOA management company, managers can evaluate proposed meeting structure and recommend strategies to increase attendance and participation. They can also help neighbors draft an agenda and manage the flow of the meeting. Because changes to the design of common areas and landscapes may involve a slight increase in the budget, your managers can also give you a reasonable run-down of division and length of payment.

Photo by Jean-Philippe Delberghe on Unsplash

Adapting Biophilic Design Principles to Common Areas in a Community.

Neighbors don’t have to include every tenet of the major biophilic design principles in your design plan. Just a few they can consider include the creation of a horticultural garden with simple-to-grow produce like cabbages, tomatoes and potatoes, as well as fruit-giving trees. Horticulturalism has been found to help battle stress, and it is also a vital way to bring community members together and encourage them to bond while working on a common goal. Additional ideas include creating separate “nooks” through live green partitions that still enable people to walk freely from one nook to another. Depending on how many concepts they wish to add, they can give gardens, walkways, and common areas a biophilic air. For instance, communities with outdoor pools may decide to surround the pool with a wild garden, or they can build a natural pool with a natural pool filtration system. Measures can be as small as placing benches in the garden, or as ambitious as replacing opaque walls with sliding glass doors (in areas like the community meeting room or the community gym).

Photo by Patrick Perkins on Unsplash

Biophilic design is the buzzword in offices, communities, and homes. Events of the past two years have highlighted the importance that living in nature-filled spaces can have in times of stress and confinement. Biophilic design concepts are far-reaching and involve much more than incorporating plants into one’s design spaces, however. It also involves using natural materials, creating views and secret places, and even creating a sense of mystery. Communities can take their biophilic concepts as far as they wish, provided these are agreed upon by all community members.